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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
booklet and a flow-restricting shower head insert were delivered to each of 4.5 million households. The households often inserted the flow restrictor and went on to take other advice offered in the booklet—making furnace adjustments, insulating duct work, and so forth. These changes in behavior seem to have been due not only to the information in the booklet, but also to the momentum caused by installing the flow restrictor. Once a person makes a small commitment in the direction of energy conservation, his or her tendency to try other behaviors—especially if they are clearly described, inexpensive, and relatively easy—is increased.
These experiments present clear, energy-relevant examples of a general behavioral dynamic: (1) people profess a desire to make a change; (2) the degree of change they make is enhanced by an intervention that increases the degree of cognitive commitment to the change; and (3) it may be inferred that people are pleased with the outcome, or at least they did not experience coercion. In the experiments by Pallak and his colleagues and by other researchers, people continued to show significant behavior change long after the precipitating event had passed and the presence of the researchers had lost its salience. Other studies suggest that adoption of one energy-saving practice led easily to the adoption of others. Some of the practical implications of this dynamic are explored further in the section below on energy information programs.
The Expression of Personal Values and Norms
Energy use is influenced by broad personal values and by specific norms for action. Those values and norms are products of upbringing, perceptions of world and local events, and the influence of other people. They can take on the psychological force of moral convictions or of ego involvement. For example, a person who grew up in poverty may define his or her personal worth in terms of consumerism. Such a person may feel he or she has “made it,” or succeeded in climbing out of impoverished circumstances, because there is no need to be concerned with cost or to worry about waste. “Why should I turn my thermostat down at night? I can afford it.” That kind of attitude, based as it is on a person’s sense of self, is a formidable barrier to energy-conserving actions. Similarly, a corporate executive is likely to feel that a person in his or her position should travel by air, ride in a large private car, and work in a spacious, climate-controlled office.
A very different value, which seems to be gaining favor among U.S. consumers, has been called “voluntary simplicity” (Elgin and Mitchell, 1977). Leonard-Barton (1981b) describes it in terms of a syndrome of behaviors: using bicycles for transportation, recycling paper, cans, and glass, learning to increase self-sufficiency, eating meatless meals, buying secondhand goods, and making certain items at home instead of purchasing